We can't say we're surprised, just sad. Cars 2, the only Pixar film that we haven't eagerly anticipated, is getting the worst reviews of any title in the studio's short history (it sits at 39 percent "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes). But aside from its likely first "rotten" designation, it has also shouldered an indignity above most indignities: "Pixar has now found its redneck Jar-Jar Binks. Such a proud moment," dryly observed New York Times critic A.O. Scott about Larry the Cable Guy's panned tow truck, Mater. So, why the colder reception? Here are a few theories:

  • Moviegoers Simply Aren't Attached to a World Without Humans  Roger Ebert, who loved the movie, began his review with an nostalgic anecdote that the movie reminded of a childhood when "I was completely engrossed with my cars. They were as real as people." Fair enough, but we found A.O. Scott's interpretation of the problems with the Cars universe a little more telling:

Nearly every other Pixar fantasy, however extravagant, has been tethered to a recognizable human reality. But unlike “Toy Story” or “Ratatouille” or “Wall-E” or “Monsters Inc.,” the “Cars” movies have no human characters, and somehow this robs them of a crucial dimension of magic. It may be intriguing to imagine what our toys do when we leave them behind, but there is something irreducibly grim about an entire planet ruled by mass-produced consumer goods whose producers and consumers are nowhere around.

  • There Really Isn't Any 'Heart and Soul'  It's a cliché, sure, but nearly every Pixar movie seems to blend syrup with substance. Here, they throw it away and instead came up with a spy movie spoof, writes Christy Lemire for the Associated Press.

 "Cars 2" tries to encompass many kinds of stories at once, none of which is terribly clever or compelling. And the fact that Pixar mastermind John Lasseter is back as director is the most baffling part of all. This is the man who kicked it all off with the soulful and groundbreaking "Toy Story" back in 1995. This is not someone from whom you would expect empty glossiness.

  • It Merely Delivers 'Cable Guy' Humor  The A.V. Club puts it simply: the film "transform[ed] John Lasseter’s shiny love letter to the automobile into an unabashed vehicle for the hayseed comedy stylings of Larry The Cable Guy." With the inevitable result being:

The first Cars was pitched at a much younger audience than the rest of Pixar’s oeuvre; the sequel is pitched even more directly at an even younger audience. It’s difficult to insert scatological humor into a film devoid of human bodily functions, but Cars 2 nevertheless manages to smuggle some in via Mater “leaking fluids” and at one point ending up in a lavatory truck.